Greetings once again friends! This is Episode 30 of the podcast. The title of this week’s episode is “What Was Nailed to the Cross?”
This is an important question worthy of our attention for a few minutes.
In the history of the Christian church, some have taught that it was the Old Testament law—including Ten Commandments— that was nailed to the Cross, while others have said, “No, it was only the Old Testament ceremonial laws that were nailed to the Cross, because Jesus fulfilled all of those as the sacrificial ‘Lamb of God.’”
We’ll answer that question in today’s Bible study. But, first we need to set the background to give our understanding some depth and perspective.
The idea of something being “nailed to the cross” is an expression Paul used in his letter to the church at Colossae, written around AD 60-62 while he was a prisoner in Rome.
Colossae was a metropolis in the Roman province of Asia (not to be confused with continent of Asia we know today). It was about 1300 miles away from Rome in what is now modern-day Turkey. There is no indication in the New Testament that Paul ever personally visited Colossae, however the church there was probably planted as fruit of his ministry all through Asia Minor—or Anatolia, as the region was also known.
Paul was greatly concerned that the church—regardless of location or history—would maintain purity of the gospel message—the supremacy of Christ, salvation by grace through faith in him, with no mixture of pagan or outside philosophies or theologies.
Word arrived to Paul in Rome that some dangerous false teachings were invading the church at Colossae. The content of these false doctrines seems to be a mixture of old-line Judaistic legalism with a type of oriental paganism. The teachers of these heresies believed in an organization of angels who brought human beings to salvation through merits earned by strictly following correct worship forms.
In Judaistic legalism, salvation was based on strict obedience to all the Judaic laws. God’s favor, they believed, could only be obtained by human works of righteousness. IOW, the forms of religion were more important than faith and the fruit of the Spirit.
In Galatians 5:22, Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
To those Jews who also claimed to be followers of Christ, obeying all the rules was paramount. Having the fruit of the Spirit present and manifested in one’s life was beside the point.
Also, some of these Colossian believers were teaching that Christ (as God) could not have come to earth as a true human being in bodily form because, they believed, that matter is evil. Based on that erroneous idea, they taught that God did not create the world because he would not have created evil. In their mistaken views, they saw Christ as just one of many intermediaries between God and the people.
Paul knew that these ideas of earning salvation by human efforts had to be stopped immediately. He lifted his pen—so to speak—and began drafting his letter.
The first thing Paul addressed was the true identity and nature of Jesus.
“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.”Colossians 1:15-20
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah made it abundantly clear that human (so-called) “good” works are worthless as credit for our moral fitness for heaven. He writes, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6).
Now notice the context of Paul’s statement in Colossians about what was nailed to the cross:
“You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).
So, here’s a quick “Q & A”:
- Q: What was nailed to the cross?
- A: The “handwriting of requirements that was against us.”
- Q: What is this “handwriting?”
- A: The documentation of our “trespasses,” i.e. the record of our sins!
Let’s remember that both Colossae and Jerusalem were cities in the Roman Empire. The laws of the Empire governed all society throughout the entire territory. The courts were conducted according to Roman law. We get a glimpse of that in the gospel story of Jesus’s trial, conviction, and crucifixion.
With this in mind, it is helpful to know the practices and processes of Roman jurisprudence in the trial of an accused criminal.
Paul wrote his letter in koine Greek, of course—the common language of the entire territory previously occupied by the Grecian Empire. The Greek word for “document” is “dogmasin,” which is rendered in the New Living Translation as “the record of charges against us.”
In the Roman court system, when a person was charged and convicted of an offense, a “dogmasin” was prepared to document the outcome, including the verdict and the sentence for punishment.
This “dogmasin”—a legal document—contained four pieces of information:
- The criminal’s name
- The offense
- The punishment
- The name of the presiding judge
At the end of the trial, the judge would sign his name to the “dogmasin,” then give it to the court guards. The guards escorted the prisoner—now a convicted criminal—to the public square, where the “dogmasin” was nailed to a designated post. The prisoner was tied to the post for punishment—e.g. “forty lashes”—as specified in the “dogmasin.”
The message Paul writes to the Colossian believers saying we were [as good as] “dead in our trespasses” i.e. “sins,” is that both figurative and literally Christ took our “dogmasin” away from our post of punishment and nailed it TO HIS OWN CROSS. Christ “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us . . . having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14).
Paul then summarizes his teaching with this admonition:
“So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or [ceremonial] sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.”Colossians 2:16-17
Note: There is no substance in a shadow. Eternal life is in Christ, NOT in the FORM or PRACTICE of religion.
Now, before I leave this subject I want to steer your thoughts to the biblical prophetic symbol for compromise, exalted human accomplishments, and outright rebellion against God’s rule of light, love, mercy, and grace. That symbol is the antithesis of godliness. It is embodied in “Babylon the Great”—the powerful harlot of Revelation—who has seduced every nation, indeed every descendant of Adam and Eve since the beginning of sin’s presence on Earth.
We start with the message of the Second Angel in Revelation 14.
For context, let me note that this message follows directly after the First Angel—who has “the everlasting gospel,” and proclaims a clarion call to worship the Creator of everything.
Babylonianism compromises and corrupts that principle of true godliness. Human achievements are mixed in with gospel grace to somehow supplement our qualifications for salvation. But the Scriptures are abundantly clear: Sinners are saved by grace alone through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on Calvary’s cross.
Period. Full stop. End of story.
The Second Angel announces, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen,” repeating the expression twice.
In the Old Testament we find two incidents of Babylon’s destruction—both times by God’s intervention.
The first was at the Tower of Babel. You can find that story in Genesis 10, where post-Flood people attempted to “build a tower” on the Plain of Shinar to “make a name for themselves,” and to reach heaven using their own skills, and resources.
Then, centuries later under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, the Neo-Babylonian Empire flourished and grew to immense size. The capitol city—Babylon, with its incredible hanging gardens—was even listed as one of the ancient “Seven Wonders of the World.” Don’t miss the fact that both the city and the empire were built on Babylonianism—glorifying human pride and accomplishment.
When we examine foundations of Mystic Babylon, “Babylon the Great” in Revelation, we discover that same mixture in the realm of the spirit. She—Babylon the Great—inspires human beings to think they can, or must, contribute something in order to be saved for heaven.
But, listen again to Paul’s warning in Colossians 2:8.
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”
Then notice that only a few verses later where Paul refers to the “handwriting of requirements that was against us.” He says that Christ “has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (v.14).
I’ll conclude with what I said earlier. Eternal life is in Christ, not in the form or practice of religion, nor in any action, obedience, or our feeble attempts at law-keeping.
The FRUIT of righteousness is produced by the NATURE of each person re-created into the image of Christ. (See 2 Corinthians 5:17).
Jesus has claimed our incriminating “dogmasin” as his own, removing the entire record of our sinfulness—along with the guilt it carries—and “in his own body” nailed it to his cross.
And, we are free!
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Thank you so much for listening today! I pray you have been blessed.
I hope you can join me for next week’s episode. I’m going to share about another author I have enjoyed recently. Eric Metaxas has written several large biographies of historic influential people, plus other smaller books, articles, and stories. If you are not already acquainted with his writing, I think you will enjoy learning about his life and ministry.
Be sure to tune in, and invite someone else to listen with you!
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